Starfish, also known as sea stars by scientists to avoid the misconception that they are fish, are dying in record numbers. Along the Pacific coast from southern California to British Columbia and off the Atlantic coast in Rhode Island and Maine, the sea stars are under attack by an unknown wasting disease that causes them to lose their arms and turns their bodies to goo.
Die offs that occurred in the past did not affect such a large area or as many species of starfish or sheer numbers as is currently happening. It took decades for the starfish population to return to their former numbers.
Scientist from the University of California, Brown, Cornell and Western Washington University are working to figure out why. Environmental factors, a virus, bacteria, infection or an autoimmune condition are all being looked at as possible culprits. The scientists are not even sure that the outbreaks on both coasts are linked.
Scientists worry about the long term ecological consequences of the outbreak as the lack of starfish ripples through the ecosystem.